May02

I am the Vine

Categories // Sermons

5th Sunday in Easter

I am the Vine

        Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

        There once was a little baby bird that fell from its nest in the tree. The baby bird was not yet strong enough to fly back to the nest and began to chirp loudly in distress. Along came a cow grazing on the grass. As the cow passed the little chirping bird, it dropped a cow-pie on the bird.

        The bird thought its situation was going from bad to worse until it realized that the manure was warm and had insects and worms to feed it. Feeling happy again the baby bird began to sing. Hearing the singing of the bird, a cat came along, dug out the bird from the cow-pie and ate it.

        The moral of the story is that when life covers you in manure, it isn’t always the worst thing that can happen to you and anyone who frees you from your predicament is not necessarily helping you.

        The good Dr. Martin Luther comments on the parable in today’s Gospel reading with a similar story about a grape vine.

        In this parable Jesus speaks to his disciples about his crucifixion that he must face alone, but he does not want them to feel abandoned. He tells them that his work must be done in order for all people to be saved. He tells them that, following his resurrection, they will see him again then they will truly do greater works through the Holy Spirit he will give to them.

        Because of following his commands to preach the Gospel to all people and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they too will be persecuted and suffer. Yet he wants them to understand the affliction and suffering of Christians is far different from what appears on the surface and before the world. [1]

“He says that Christians are not afflicted without God’s counsel and will; that when this does happen, it is a sign of grace and fatherly love, not of wrath and punishment, and must serve our welfare.”[2]

        When God the Father, acting as the vinedresser prunes the wild branches to keep them from sucking out the strength and sap of the others, he is helping us. When he applies manure to the stock of the vine it is for the benefit of the vine.           

        I have heard tell that keeping the number of fruit producing branches to a minimum in a fruit tree, guarantees larger, juicier fruit. In a way, cutting the lesser branches makes the existing branches better makers of fruit.

        In grape vines, this process is called the ‘green harvest’. “Removing the tiny, immature grapes while they are still green induces the vine to put all its energy into developing the remaining grapes.”[3] The idea is that the remaining grapes will become tastier and better for the wine.

        Dr. Luther continues by saying:

“He who is able to learn, therefore, let him learn, in order that when afflicted and assailed everyone may conclude that the world, the devil, death, and all misfortune are only God’s hoe and clipper; that all the revilement and disgrace the Christian experiences is God’s way of fertilizing him.”[4]

What a wonderful way to look at our struggles as Christians in a hostile world. God is using the works of the Devil and his followers as tools to strengthen us in Jesus Christ.

        It doesn’t take someone with a green thumb to recognize the meaning behind Christ’s parable in John 15:1-8. The truth is simple and basic: without the vine of Christ, we the branches, do not live. Without life, the branch does not bear fruit. That branch becomes worthless to the master vinedresser and is taken away to be burned in the fire.

        All sorts of allusions can be made to our producing fruit in the vine that is Christ Jesus. Some relate the pruning to God’s testing of our faith. Some say the different branches represent people of different faiths, but that is not true; those branches that do not produce are Christians in name only. They take from the vine but do not produce anything, thus weakening the branches that produce good fruit. Those who are not Christian, i.e., other faiths, are not even connected to Christ and will never produce the fruit of Christ.

        Some may believe that if they don’t produce enough, then their faith is not strong. I suggest that you do not try to think too hard on this one. It is as simple as Jesus tells us.

        He is the vine, the true vine. Anyone who abides in him will bear fruit. Just as the branch on the grapevine cannot produce oranges or bananas, you can only produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Whether it is three grapes or a dozen, you are still in Christ and He in you.

        Remember, we are not in charge of our relationship with God. We do not decide how much sunshine we receive or how much nutrients we are fed, we don’t even get to decide how much fruit we produce. We are branches tended by the Father and fed in truth and light by the Son. Christ tells us in verse 5 of John 15, “…apart from me you can do nothing.”

        Therefore, how do we become fruit bearing branches in the Vine of Christ Jesus? Very simply, we become a member of the body of Christ by our baptism with the Holy Spirit. With our baptism, we are baptized into the death of our Savior and we are renewed into life with him for all eternity.

        Because of our Lord’s death on the cross as payment for our sin, we no longer fear being cut from the true vine of life. Because of Christ’s resurrection from the grave and victory over death and the devil, we live on through him and we produce the fruit of faith to the glory of our Father in heaven.

        In the late 19th century, the vitis venifera, or the common grape was nearly completely destroyed in all of Europe by a plant louse, a type of aphid, accidently introduced from North America. The grape vines were saved by being grafted onto the rootstock of Native American varieties. To this day, any vineyard not planted with grafted rootstock is susceptible to this insect.[5]

        Like those branches and vines of other people who have not heard the word of salvation, those outside the body of Christ are not lost. Through baptism they too can be grafted to the rootstock that is Jesus Christ. Once a branch on the vine, they too will produce fruit which glorifies our Father in heaven.

        Once attached to Christ and Christ to them, they no longer need fear the disease of sin. They no longer need fear death and the burning fire.

        How do we know our Lord’s promise is true? He tells us the fruit of our faith will show that we abide in him and him in us, so that whatever we ask of him, he will do it for us. [John 15:7] King David wrote of this in his very first Psalm.

            “Blessed is the man

            Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

            He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also shall not wither;

            And whatever he does shall prosper.” [Psalm 1:1a, 3]

        While we abide in Christ, his word remains in us. It is His word of truth which guides us and to the faithful who produce fruit; he gives what we ask in prayer. Jesus will always remain in those who remain in him. The Holy Spirit moves from Christ to us; from the vine to the branches. He moves through us to sustain us, make us grow, and to bear good fruit.

        Farmers, gardeners and vinedressers are truly amazing. To prune what is a fruitless from what is a fruitful takes knowledge, patience and love. We can all thank God for being such a loving and patient vinedresser of His people.

        Each day we see the sun shine on us. We drink water and we breathe the air to sustain us. These three substances are necessary for us to live in this life. Our eternal life also requires three important factors; we need the Son of God to shine on us. We need the life-giving water in our baptism and we need the Holy Spirit to breathe life into our hearts and minds to sustain us.

        Son-shine, water and the breath of the Spirit is all we need to produce the good fruit of faith. You abide in Christ and Christ abides in you. All has been given to us by the grace of God.

Amen

 


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 24 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 193.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 24 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 193–194.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viticulture: downloaded 30APR21

[4] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 24 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 195.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vineyard : downloaded 30APR21